Written by Max Ehrlich
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Season 2, Episode 9
Production episode 60338
Original air date: October 13, 1967
Captain’s log. The Enterprise is in orbit of Gamma Trianguli VI, under orders to make contact with the natives, and also to make sense of some odd readings taken by nearby scout ships. A landing party beams down that includes Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Yeoman Martha Landon, and four security guards: Hendorff, Marple, Mallory, and Kaplan. Spock comments on how the planet has fairly even, pleasant temperatures and a great deal of plant growth all over the planet, even at the poles, which is bizarre to say the least.
A flower starts turning on its own. Hendorff goes to investigate it, and is hit with a barrage of spores that kill him instantly. Kirk reports in to Scotty, in charge of the Enterprise, who beams the body back. Scotty also reports that the antimatter pods are losing potency, and they’re detecting an odd electromagnetic field on the planet. Spock, meanwhile, reports that there’s a consistent, artificially created subsurface vibration, and it covers the entire planet.
Kirk sends Marple and Mallory to scout the village they were heading toward. Meanwhile, Spock finds a scout of his own: a local who is checking them out while in hiding. Kirk decides to let him be for the moment, and the party moves more slowly toward the village. Spock finds a rock sample that he finds fascinating. He tosses one piece aside, and it explodes.
Scotty reports that the antimatter is now wholly inert, and the source is an emission from the planet that seems to be centralized in the village they’re headed to.
Another flower attacks Spock, but he doesn’t die instantly, due to his being in the opening credits. McCoy might be able to save him in sickbay, but when Kirk calls for a beam-out, Scotty discovers that the transporter has lost power. However, Spock recovers completely anyhow, thanks to a hypo McCoy injects him with, so that’s a relief. Why Hendorff didn’t get such an injection is left as an exercise for the viewer.
Suddenly a major electrical storm hits. Lightning fries Kaplan, and the rest of the landing party takes cover. The storm passes as quickly as it came.
Mallory reports in that he’s reached the village, but the communication is garbled. He reports that the village is primitive: straw huts and no noticeable technology. However, his report doesn’t make it through the interference—they did get his coordinates, though, and what’s left of the landing party heads that way.
They encounter Mallory and Marple running away from the village, and Mallory trips on one of the explosive rocks and is killed. Kirk is getting seriously pissed off: this isn’t an important enough mission to justify three deaths.
Spock detects their pursuer again, and this time the landing party lures him into the open. Kirk punches him, and the man starts crying. His name is Akuta, he is the leader of the Feeders of Vaal, and he’s only wearing a serape. He also has antennae behind his ears, which Akuta explains are the Ears of Vaal. He offers to take the party to Vaal.
Scotty reports that something like a tractor beam is pulling the Enterprise toward the planet, and without warp power, they can’t break free of it.
Akuta explains that Vaal makes the sun shine and the rains pour. All things come from Vaal. He leads them to a cave mouth shaped like a huge animal head. Spock’s tricorder tells him that this is an access point for the power source, which is deep beneath the surface. It’s also surrounded by a force field, which Spock discovers when said field knocks him on his ass.
Akuta says that Vaal is sleeping now, but he may speak to Kirk when he awakens and is hungry. He takes the party to the village. Kirk is confused by the lack of children, but Akuta says that “replacements” aren’t necessary, and he also informs Landon that Vaal has forbidden intimacy. They wrap flowers around everyone’s wrists, give them a hut to stay in, and provide food and drink.
McCoy reports a complete lack of harmful bacteria, no cellular degeneration, no signs whatsoever of aging. He can’t tell how old they are. Spock adds that their atmosphere protects them from all harmful effects of the sun, and they have a controlled diet and regulated temperature. In some ways it is paradise, except for the whole part about flowers and rocks that can kill you.
The villagers all suddenly gather at Vaal and provide offerings. But when Kirk and Spock try to approach, the eyes start to glow.
Kirk has Scotty do an analysis of the electromagnetic energy expended by Vaal hour by hour, and Scotty says that there’s been a continuous drop in power. Spock and McCoy argue on the subject of this society—Spock finds it orderly and points out that the people are happy and healthy, while McCoy argues that it hasn’t changed in millennia, and it’s not life, it’s stagnation in the service of a hunk of tin.
The landing party gathers in their hut to eat. Kirk wonders what they do if someone dies, and Landon wonders how they would create a replacement, as it were, when they don’t ever seem to have sex. (This particular scene takes forever, since 1967 Broadcast Standards & Practices only allowed for innuendo and hints and tee-hee speculating on the subject.)
Later, Chekov and Landon wander about and make sweet, passionate nookie-nookie. Sayana and Makora, two of the locals, watch this in confusion. They decide to try kissing also to see what all the fuss is about. Akuta catches them and reprimands them. Vaal informs Akuta that the strangers are dangerous and he orders Makora to gather the men of Vaal in a clearing. Vaal has instructed the men to kill the strangers, which is a concept they’re wholly unfamiliar with. Akuta has to demonstrate how to kill using a big stick and a fruit (representing a head), which he then smashes.
Everyone’s asleep except for Kirk and Spock, who discuss the efficacy of destroying Vaal and what it might do to these people. Spock mentions the Prime Directive, but Kirk agrees with McCoy: these people deserve a choice in how to live their lives.
Spock then reports that the people of the village have disappeared. He and Kirk go to Vaal and try to confront it, but then another nasty electrical storm hits. Spock is struck by lightning, just like Kaplan, but unlike Kaplan, he still has the power of being in the opening credits, and so he’s only singed.
The men of the village attack with big sticks. Marple is killed, thanks to the element of surprise, but the rest of the party hold them off with ease. (Of particular note is that Landon kicks some serious ass in the fight.)
Scotty pulls an engineering rabbit out of his hat, but it only gains the Enterprise an hour or so before they’ll get drawn into the atmosphere and burned up.
Vaal calls for feeding, and the natives all try to go to feed him, but Chekov orders them to stay put. Kirk orders him, McCoy, and Landon to keep the people in the hut. Akuta begs them to let him and the others go.
Kirk hypothesizes that the Enterprise‘s attempt to break free drained its reserves, which is why it called for feeding. The ship’s phasers are still working fine, so Kirk orders Scotty to fire on Vaal. It can’t get through the force field, but it proves a further drain on Vaal’s resources. Eventually, the continuous phaser fire overcomes it, and Vaal goes dark. Spock finds no power emissions whatsoever, and Scotty reports that the Enterprise antimatter pods have regained power.
Akuta is devastated: Vaal cared for them, put fruit on the trees, made it rain. Kirk insists that they can put fruit on the trees themselves, and they can also enjoy love and affectionate, and other family values.
Spock is still unsure of whether or not they did the right thing. He makes mention of the story told in Chapter 1 of Genesis, prompting Kirk and McCoy to joke that there’s only one person on the ship who resembles Satan, and everyone has a laugh (except Spock).
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? With the antimatter pods rendered inert, the Enterprise doesn’t have warp power, and impulse power is insufficient to break Vaal’s hold. Scotty does reroute some circuits to increase power to the impulse engines, but it’s only enough to buy them a little extra time—luckily, it also drains Vaal’s power enough for Kirk to work his endgame.
Fascinating. Spock starts to enumerate how much Starfleet has invested in him to Kirk, but only gets as far as “one hundred twenty-two thousand, two hundred” before he’s cut off. We don’t get to learn the full amount, nor the currency in which he’s valuing himself (heck, he could even be reeling off the amount of time he spent training for all we know).
He also is attacked in exactly the same manner as two of the redshirts who are killed, and he not only survives, but shows no ill effects from either attack within fourteen seconds of being so attacked.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. When Hendorff is attacked by the spores, McCoy throws up his hands and says, “He’s dead, Jim.” When Spock is attacked by the spores, McCoy pulls out a hypo and injects him with it. Yeah.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty is left in charge of the ship and does lots of things to try to fix it, pretty much all of which fail.
It’s a Russian invention. Chekov insists that the Garden of Eden was located just outside Moscow.
Go put on a red shirt. All four security guards who beam down are systematically killed, either by accident (Hendorff, Mallory) or due to Vaal’s direct actions (Kaplan, Marple). Nobody else is even badly hurt.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Chekov and Landon are dating (Landon even calls him “Pav”), and they go all smoochie-face at one point, which inspires two of Vaal’s followers to do likewise.
Channel open. “Would you mind being careful where you throw your rocks, Mr. Spock?”
Kirk criticizing Spock’s cavalier method of tossing explosive geological samples around.
Welcome aboard. Celeste Yarnall plays Landon, the latest member of the Post-Rand Yeoman Derby, while Keith Andes, David Soul, and Shari Nims played the three Vaalians with speaking parts. The four redshirts who are killed are played by Jay Jones (last seen as Jackson in “Catspaw“), Jerry Daniels, Mal Friedman, and Dick Dial (like Jones, a regular stuntman for the show; he’d also come back to the franchise decades later, playing Jeremy Kemp’s stunt double in TNG‘s “Family“). Plus we have recurring regulars James Doohan, Walter Koenig, and John Winston.
Trivial matters: Gene L. Coon did an uncredited rewrite of the script.
Kirk said that Mallory’s father helped him get into Starfleet Academy. This was dramatized in the novel Collision Course by William Shatner, with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens.
DC Comics’s first monthly Star Trek series did a sequel to this episode in issues #43-45 by Michael Carlin, Tom Sutton, & Ricardo Villagran, which had the Enterprise-A revisiting the world to see how they’d progressed. (Spoiler: they progressed very very very badly.) Vaal also appears, and is encountered by a time-travelling Seven of Nine, in Greg Cox’s novel No Time Like the Past.
IDW’s current monthly Trek comic did a version of this story in the alternate timeline of the 2009 film, done from the point of view of Hendorff. It was issue #13 by Mike Johnson & Stephen Molnar, and in that timeline, the redshirts all survive the mission. That comic also establishes that “Cupcake” from the film was that timeline’s Hendorff.
The original script called for the Enterprise to separate the saucer from the rest of the ship, something that was originally listed as a feature of the ship in the series writers guide, but it was deemed too expensive. (Kirk does, at least, mention it when discussing options with Scotty.) Saucer separation would become an overtly stated feature of the Enterprise-D in TNG, seen in “Encounter at Farpoint,” “The Arsenal of Freedom,” and “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.”
Celeste Yarnall was actually wearing Grace Lee Whitney’s old costume on set, which was retailored to fit her.
This is the only Trek work by author/screenwriter/journalist Max Ehrlich, who is probably best known for writing the 1973 novel The Reincarnation of Peter Proud as well as the screenplay for its movie adaptation in 1975.
To boldly go. “Garden of Eden, with land mines.” How many clichés can we wrap into one episode? Let me count the ways…
First, we get the world-running computer. We’ve seen this before, in “The Return of the Archons,” and this has pretty much the same beats, with just minor variations. “The Apple” has a higher body count and the people controlled by the computer are far less technologically advanced (and there are fewer of them), but it’s basically the same story. The one thing this episode has over the first-season one (as well as “The Changeling“) is that the computer isn’t done in by Kirk’s rhetorical brilliance (ahem) but rather by simply overpowering it.
Second, we have the common Trek theme of things seldom being what they seem. But where that can be used to good effect—”Arena,” “The Corbomite Manuever,” “The Devil in the Dark“—it’s less effective when you do the metaphorical rug-pulling before the opening credits have even rolled.
Third, we have the Redshirt Phenomenon, inaugurated in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” seen again in “Friday’s Child,” and taken to its absurd extreme for the second episode in a row, as we get four walking talking corpses, although unlike Nomad’s victims in “The Changeling,” these four at least a) get names and b) get to die in a variety of ways. What makes it far more appalling, though, is that Spock survives two like attacks without any ill effects whatsoever. Spores that kill Hendorff instantly somehow don’t kill Spock, and after an injection from McCoy, all he has is a tummyache. And when he’s hit by lightning, he has second-degree burns that are described as very painful, and then he shows no signs of injury in the least after that. Not even a damaged shirt! I guess Vulcans have more hit points…
Fourth, we get the ship in danger until the last second when Scotty pulls an engineering rabbit out of his hat after bitching the whole episode about how there’s nothing he can do. This got its start in “The Naked Time,” and also is one of the most extreme examples.
On top of that, the plot is just irritating on so many levels. Probably the biggest issue, though, is this: why does this planet, that has been tailor-made to keep the natives happy and immortal and unchanging so they can feed Vaal, have poisonous flowers and exploding rocks? Supposedly Vaal is out to protect the natives so they can keep feeding him, but what if they, like Mallory, trip on a rock? Or walk in front of the wrong flower?
This is also the kind of story where what happens next is at least as important as what happened. This is a society of people who have no clue how to fend for themselves. One assumes they had Federation assistance, but how did they survive the transition? What happened when someone got sick? Or committed a crime?
Warp factor rating: 3
Next week: “Mirror, Mirror”
Keith R.A. DeCandido wishes everyone a joyous holiday.